Good Friday Agreement

Questions (261)

Chris Andrews

Question:

261. Deputy Chris Andrews asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the preferred date of the Government to hold a Border poll; if both united Ireland referendums will be held on the same date; if the 26 county poll will be held first; and if so, the date for same. [2420/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The approach of any Government in relation to Irish unity is guided by Article 3 of the Constitution, as amended by the people in 1998. The Government respects everyone’s right on this island to make the case for the constitutional future they wish to see for Northern Ireland - whether the continuation of the union with Great Britain or a sovereign united Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement - and the two sovereign Governments - explicitly recognise and validate the legitimacy of both of these constitutional positions, which are deeply held.

The holding of a referendum in this jurisdiction is connected with the calling of a border poll, under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, in Northern Ireland. The decision to hold such a poll in Northern Ireland rests with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

The full implementation and effective operation of the Good Friday Agreement is a priority for this Government. The principle of consent and the possibility of change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland are fundamental elements of the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by the people of this island of Ireland, North and South. Should there be a vote in favour of constitutional change in the future, it will be a binding obligation on both Governments to introduce and support in their respective Parliaments legislation to give effect to that wish.

The Government will continue to listen to and engage with the views of everyone on this island, on the constitutional future that they wish to see for Northern Ireland. These are extremely important issues which naturally require very careful and serious consideration and the Government will continue to engage and reflect on them.

Northern Ireland

Questions (262)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

262. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the elements of the Stormont House Agreement that have been implemented; the elements that remain to be implemented; the impediments to the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement in its entirety; and if a truth and reconciliation commission was considered for Northern Ireland. [2494/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Stormont House Agreement was reached in 2014 after a period of intense negotiation by the Irish Government, the UK Government and the political parties in Northern Ireland.

It provides for a comprehensive and balanced framework to address the legacy of the past, including an Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) to take forward outstanding investigations in Troubles-related deaths, an Independent Commission on Information Retrieval (ICIR) to facilitate truth recovery for victims and survivors, an Oral History Archive to record testimony from affected individuals and communities; and the Implementation and Reconciliation Group (IRG), to provide overall oversight, look at themes and patterns and support reconciliation.

The commitment to the implementation of the provisions of the Stormont House Agreement was reaffirmed in the context of the New Decade, New Approach Agreement in January 2020. As the Deputy will be aware, in March, the UK Government published a Written Ministerial Statement which proposed significant changes to the Stormont House framework. I have engaged with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and others regularly since that time to make clear the serious concerns of the Government in this respect, to set out our position that the Stormont House Agreement is the path forward, and to underline the critical importance of a collective approach to legacy.

With respect to a truth and reconciliation commission, within the framework of the Stormont House Agreement, it is envisioned that the role of the ICIR will be to enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about the Troubles-related deaths of their next of kin.

The ICIR agreement was signed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in October 2015 and laid before the Oireachtas in January 2016. The Independent Commission can only be formally established once the necessary legislation has been enacted and the two Governments have notified each other of completion of all other domestic legal procedures required to bring the agreement into force.

The Government remains ready to engage and work with the British Government and the parties to the Northern Ireland Executive in partnership on this very important issue in the period immediately ahead, with a view to reaffirming a collective approach that is consistent with the Stormont House Agreement framework, and for all victims, survivors and society as a whole.

Diplomatic Representation

Questions (263)

Neale Richmond

Question:

263. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a report on the activity of the Consulate General of Ireland in Frankfurt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2517/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Consulate General opened in October 2019 as an important part of our efforts to strengthen Ireland’s presence in Germany. The opening of the Consulate General is a clear sign of Ireland’s commitment to deepening its relationship with Germany.

The Consulate currently operates in a temporary location. Work is ongoing to identify a long-term property option that will function as an Ireland House. The Consulate hopes to move into its permanent Ireland House location by the end of 2021 which would serve as the major platform for the Irish community, business and cultural activities in the region.

The Consulate’s priority objectives include:

- Establishing strong relationships with the Government, Parliament and Ministries in Hessen, the Rhineland Palatinate and Saarland as well as with the European Central Bank and Single Supervisory Mechanism in Frankfurt.

- Promoting Ireland’s economic reputation and build business links in the region.

- Undertaking an intensive public diplomacy programme, with a media and cultural promotion focus, to develop Ireland’s profile and image.

The Consulate General works closely with the Embassy of Ireland in Berlin, under the overall direction of the Ambassador, including on the implementation of the Germany-Ireland Joint Plan of Action for Enhanced Bilateral and EU Co-operation.

The Consulate is playing an important role in developing the strong partnership between Ireland and Germany. It has built relationships at senior levels with the State Governments and their economic agencies to promote Irish interests.

It also works closely with the Irish State Agencies based in Frankfurt (IDA and Tourism Ireland) and Düsseldorf (Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia) to promote Irish economic and business interests. The Consulate General is actively involved in working with Irish companies in deepening links with the region.

The Consulate also provides consular assistance on an on-going basis, often on Covid-19 related-issues, particularly in view of Frankfurt’s status as a major hub airport. The 2,000-strong Irish community living in the region have benefited from the shorter distance when accessing consular services and in participating in the many outreach activities organised by the Consulate. The Consulate is also extensively involved in the promotion of Irish culture, including through supporting Ireland’s presence at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair and organising regular cultural activities such as book clubs and performances of Irish music and dance.

Diplomatic Representation

Questions (264, 266, 267)

Neale Richmond

Question:

264. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the plans in place to increase Ireland's diplomatic presence within EU institutions post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2518/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

266. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if additional civil servants will be seconded to EU institutions post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2520/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

267. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the new EU jobs strategy can be expected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2521/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 264, 266 and 267 together.

As the Deputy will know, it has become clear that there will soon be a significant reduction in the number of Irish officials in senior roles in the EU Institutions, as many high-ranking Irish officials will soon retire. At the current rates of recruitment of Irish permanent staff, we are far below the replacement rate. This poses a serious challenge. It is clear that more needs to be done in this area. That is why the Programme for Government commits to the development of a new strategy to increase the number of Irish people in the EU Institutions.

Last October, the Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne T.D., launched a public consultation on Ireland’s EU jobs strategy. In total, the consultation received 124 responses. I am grateful for the high level of public engagement with the consultation, and the thoughtful suggestions received. Submissions to the consultation identified factors contributing to the low number of Irish people entering the institutions, and suggested steps the new strategy could take to address the issues identified.

Following this consultation, officials in my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are working together to develop Ireland’s overall policy approach to EU staffing.

The strategy will include proposals aimed at increasing the number of Irish people securing positions within the EU Institutions. While work on the strategy is ongoing, I hope it will be published in the coming months.

The new strategy will build upon existing work carried out by my Department in promoting careers in the EU through the EU Jobs campaign. The campaign publicises EU career opportunities, including traineeships, in Ireland’s third-level institutions. The campaign also provides support to Irish citizens who have applied for permanent jobs in the EU Institutions, providing information and advice for the duration of the recruitment competition. Those interested can go to www.dfa.ie/eujobs for more information.

It will also include a commitment to increase the number of Irish civil servants seconded annually to the EU Institutions. The Centrally Funded Scheme (CFS) for Seconded National Experts was established in 2014 to support the secondment of Irish Government officials to the EU. The scheme, which provides for secondments to international as well as EU institutions, had a budget of €1.8 million for 2020. In 2020, it financed the secondment of twenty-six Irish officials to the EU Institutions. The CFS budget for 2021 has been increased to €2 million. This means that Ireland will have the capacity to second more officials to the Institutions than in any year since the scheme was established in 2013.

In addition to this scheme, the National Expert in Professional Training programme is also open to Irish civil servants, giving Irish officials the opportunity to have a short-term placement in the EU’s Institutions.

From time to time, positions within the European External Action Service (EEAS) open to Irish officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs. These placements usually take the form of secondments or temporary assignments from the Department to the EEAS. A total of 9 Irish diplomats currently work for the EEAS, either at its Headquarters in Brussels or in one of the 140 EU Delegations located around the world.

In addition, Irish citizens also take part in the Junior Professionals in Delegation Programme run by the EEAS and the European Commission, and places highly-qualified junior professionals from Member States in EU Delegations around the world. The application period for this programme is open now and will close on 31 January. The EU has made two places available to Irish candidates under this year’s programme. My Department also intends to finance an additional two places for Irish candidates this year. Those interested in applying for the programme should consult the EEAS and DFA websites for more information.

Diplomatic Representation

Questions Nos. 266 and 267 answered with Question No. 264.

Questions (265)

Neale Richmond

Question:

265. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if there are plans to increase Ireland's diplomatic presence within EU member states post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2519/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Managing the response to Brexit continues to be a priority for my Department. The approach has been to prioritise effective policy and operational measures across the Department to manage Brexit impacts, with additional staff assigned or recruited as required.

In recent years my Department has established new posts in Madrid, Berlin, Paris, Rome, The Hague and Warsaw as well as at the Permanent Representation of Ireland to the European Union in Brussels in preparation for Brexit. Ireland maintains an Embassy in each of the EU Member State capitals and, in recognition of Frankfurt's role as the financial capital of the Euro area, a new Consulate was opened there in 2019.

The 'Global Ireland 2025' initiative will continue to support efforts to grow and diversify export markets, inward investment and tourism and underpin economic recovery. The strategy will ensure that Ireland is better positioned to build the alliances necessary to advance its interests and defend national positions in the post-Brexit EU, while also helping to secure our deep and positive relationship with the UK and its constituent parts into the future.

In addition, my Department has increased staffing in the Embassy in London, opened a Consulate in Cardiff and recently announced the opening of a new Consulate in Manchester later this year.

The Programme for Government provides for further strengthening of the diplomatic and state agency network across the European Union and its neighbourhood.

Further strengthening of staffing in the existing EU Mission network remains under review.

Questions Nos. 266 and 267 answered with Question No. 264.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (268)

Neale Richmond

Question:

268. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the engagement he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on new plans to require a negative PCR test taken 72 hours prior to departure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2588/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

As the Deputy is aware, there are now new pre-departure testing requirements for all passengers travelling to Ireland. Effective from 16 January 2021, all passengers arriving into Ireland are required to have a negative/‘not detected’ result from a pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test carried out no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Ireland.

This does not apply to travel from Northern Ireland and there continue to be no specific restrictions on cross border travel.

There is regular and ongoing North-South contact and cooperation on the island in response to COVID-19 at both operational and political level. As public health measures, including in relation to inward travel requirements, are under constant review in both jurisdictions, it is essential to maintain these strong North-South collaborative arrangements.

The Government is therefore working in close contact and cooperation with the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, with the active involvement of health administrations in both jurisdictions, including through regular conference calls and close contact between our respective Chief Medical Officers.

In recent weeks, in view of fast-moving developments in both jurisdictions, contacts have taken place with counterparts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, to discuss measures in place, including in relation to travel and pre-departure testing requirements.

In the period ahead, these contacts will continue to exchange views to foster commonality in their approach, where possible.

UN Security Council

Questions (269)

Seán Haughey

Question:

269. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will outline Ireland's priorities in respect of the United Nations Security Council for the next two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2821/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland assumed its seat on the UN Security Council on 1 January 2021. We are committed to being an active and constructive Council member and are engaging across the full Council agenda, which includes some 30 country and regional files and 20 thematic files.

Three core principles will frame our approach: building peace, strengthening conflict prevention and ensuring accountability.

In line with these principles, Ireland has identified specific priorities, including: improving peacekeeping mandates, linking peacekeeping with peacebuilding, highlighting the drivers of conflict such as climate change and grave violations of human rights, advancing inclusive approaches to peacebuilding involving women, youth and civil society, and promoting respect for international law and accountability.

Elected Security Council members take on a number of leadership roles during their terms, including chairing Sanctions Committees and thematic Working Groups and acting as primary drafters (Penholders) of some Security Council Resolutions.

Ireland has assumed the role of Facilitator for UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which deals with the Iran nuclear deal; chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee; co-chair, alongside Mexico, of the Council’s Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security; and co-chair, along with Niger, of the Informal Expert Group on Climate and Security. Ireland will also act as co-penholder, with Niger, on the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS); and co-penholder, with Norway, on humanitarian issues in Syria. Each of these roles reflect aspects of Ireland’s existing foreign policy priorities and strengths.

Ireland will hold the Presidency of the Security Council in September 2021, and will chair all meetings of the Council during that month.

This is a Government-wide effort, and the Department of Foreign Affairs is working closely with other Departments, including through a recently established inter-departmental working group. We are engaging with academic and civil society partners, including a stakeholder forum, in conjunction with the IIEA.

I look forward to keeping the Oireachtas informed of our work on the Council.

Fishing Industry

Questions (270)

Seán Haughey

Question:

270. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of his contacts with the UK and Scottish authorities regarding an incident in early January 2021 involving an Irish fishing vessel at Rockall; the position of the Government regarding claims in respect of a 12-mile exclusion zone around Rockall; if he has been in contact with the European Commission regarding these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2822/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government is fully aware of contact between a Scottish marine patrol vessel and an Irish fishing vessel, the Northern Celt, near Rockall earlier this month. I met with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on 7 January to discuss developments in relation to Rockall.

The Government is seeking to address the issues involved, reflecting the longstanding fisheries tradition in the area around Rockall, and has been in contact with the relevant Scottish and UK authorities on the matter. The issue was raised in the context of my meeting with my Scottish counterpart, Cabinet Secretary for the Constitution, Europe and External Affairs, Michael Russell, on 14 January 2021. We have agreed to keep in contact on the matter.

Myself and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as well as our respective officials, are considering all options for further engagement on the issues involved and are continuing to work closely together.

The new EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement has been provisionally applied since 1 January 2021. Irish officials remain in ongoing contact with the Commission on all matters relating to the Agreement, including fisheries.

While engagement continues on the issue of Rockall, the Government have indicated that there is an increased risk of enforcement action being taken by Scottish fisheries control authorities against Irish vessels operating in the waters around Rockall. The skipper of the Northern Celt also contacted this Department and a response has issued to him, setting out the current position.

Ireland has never made any claims to Rockall, which is a small uninhabitable granite rock located approximately 160 nautical miles west of the Scottish islands of St. Kilda and some 230 nautical miles to the north-west of Donegal. Ireland has never recognised British sovereignty claims over Rockall, and accordingly has not recognised a 12 nautical mile territorial sea around it either. This remains the position of the Government.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (271)

Holly Cairns

Question:

271. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Defence if employees of his Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2396/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

No employee of my Department, civil servant or civilian employee, has received a Covid-19 vaccine due to their role in the Department.

Defence Forces Data

Questions (272)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

272. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence the number of persons currently in receipt of Defence Forces pensions from officer ranks and from enlisted ranks, respectively; and the number that are considered disability pensions or partial disability pensions. [2514/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

As regards the specific information sought by the Deputy, at end-December 2020, the numbers of retired officers and retired enlisted ranks of the Permanent Defence Force in receipt of pensions from my Department are as follows:

Type of Pension

No. of recipients – Retired Officers

No. of recipients –Retired Enlisted Ranks

Retirement (service) pension

1,695

8,561

Retirement pension and Disability pension

113

525

Disability pension only

2

197

Totals

1,810

9,283

My Department also pays monthly pensions to dependants (spouses and children) of deceased military personnel and to small numbers of retired nurses, retired chaplains and widows of deceased Veterans of the War of Independence.

Ministerial Appointments

Questions (273)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

273. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Defence when the Minister of State with responsibility for defence (details supplied) was appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2708/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

Under section 11 of the Defence Act 1954, there is a requirement that a Council of Defence shall stand established. The section also provides that the Minister of State at the Department of Defence shall be a member of the Council. As such, there is a legislative requirement that there is a Minister of State at the Department of Defence to discharge that function. To address this issue, Deputy Jack Chambers was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Defence on 17 November 2020, solely to act as a member of the Council of Defence. No functions of the Minister for Defence have been delegated to the Minister of State and full responsibility for defence policies, the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces remains with Minister Coveney who will continue to represent Defence at Cabinet.

Defence Forces Recruitment

Questions (274)

David Stanton

Question:

274. Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Defence his plans to increase the age limit for recruitment to the Defence Forces' direct entry radio and radar technician scheme; if any exemptions are considered for those with the requisite qualifications and experience who are above the age criteria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2761/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The age limits for personnel wishing to enter the Defence Forces are as set out in Regulations made pursuant to the Defence Act 1954, as amended. The age requirement is applicable to all candidates and exceptions cannot be made in individual cases.

An independently chaired review is underway at present which is examining recruitment practices and procedures in the Defence Forces. I await the completion of that report and any recommendations that may arise, including those relating to entry criteria.

Defence Forces Deployment

Questions (275)

Sorca Clarke

Question:

275. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Defence the number of Permanent Defence Force personnel ordinarily based at Aiken Barracks, Dundalk. [2924/21]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

For operational and security reasons, personnel numbers located at specified military installations are not divulged. It is important to note that the number of personnel stationed at any particular barracks will vary on an on-going basis, as it is a normal operational feature for there to be a constant through-flow of personnel into and out of such installations.